Why Free Photos = Good SEO

I’ve written articles and spoken at conferences on the subject of using images for search engine optimization for a number of years now, and one concept that many individuals and corporations miss is the idea that looser copyright restrictions can often equate with wider promotional value and greater SEO power.

Many companies are still operating under “Business 1.0” mindsets in this “Business 2.0” world, and that failure to adapt is often resulting in very real lost market share potential.

Photographic images are often a type of content that is still sometimes hard to come by. If you have images of subjects that could be of interest to someone out there, then you can leverage this demand to obtain additional links to your sites. And links to your site are still valuable and worthwhile in terms of increasing your chances to rank higher in search results for keywords that are important to you. A greater number and variety of links equals a greater chance to rank higher than your competition.

But, if you’ve slapped all sorts of restricting copyright notices and language to all of your photos, then you’ve caused a real chilling effect in terms of the links you could be getting.

I post a lot of my pictures to the image sharing service, Flickr, and while I often have each photo’s permissions set to display “© All rights reserved”, I have placed a notice on my profile page that I typically allow journalists to use my photos if they will give me a credit line when stories are posted online, and link my name back to my homepage. On images that I think are particularly newsworthy, I’ll even mention these terms in the description below the image.

The Grapevine Sun officesJust today, this tactic paid off again it seems that Belo Corporation is closing the small-town newspaper in Grapevine, Texas. The Grapevine Sun has been in operation for something like 114 years, and now it’s closing down like many other newspapers around the country. A journalist contacted me about my photo of the Grapevine Sun office, requesting permission to use it to illustrate their article about the closing. Just as per my terms, they used the logo and linked it back to my site homepage.

This is really a win-win scenario. If I were all uptight about restricting my photos overmuch and forcing people to pay high fees for usage, it would cause all sorts of barriers for distribution for me. It might be one thing if I had some sensational photo of a celebrity doing something fantastic, or a political figure, but for most of my photos the popularity factor just isn’t high enough to warrant pretending I’m the next big photographer of the century.

The journalist got a photo to raise the human-interest feel of their story, and I got a small amount of link promotion value out of my picture. It’s not precisely a “free use” of my image, but it’s close enough from the journalist’s viewpoint, and my providing permission super-rapidly is a sensitive acknowledgement of their story deadline pressure.

News sites and blogs are treated very well in terms of link value by Google’s algorithms, so providing your images in ways that could facilitate bloggers and journalists in finding the images and making use of them can help insure that you could get more inlinks than you otherwise would.

By stating clearly on your photo pages that you’ll allow news and blog stories to use photos in return for a link back to you, you use a very mild and benign form of social engineering to increase the chances that you’ll get some links for your site.

A couple more notes on permissions most companies and PR departments are too restrictive. It’s understandable to fear that someone might use your images to illustrate stories that could be negative about you, but it’s important to keep sight of the big picture: disallowing photos for this use likely will not stop the story from happening, and even links from negative articles can help in your overall rankings. So, it’s better for you to provide the photos for open use regardless of whether you really like the story or not. It’s completely valid to state that the images may be resized but the content within the image cannot be altered.

Even better, using Creative Commons licensing can help encourage more use, and will allow you to specify terms of use that are standard and more easily understood.

In the Business 2.0 world, companies which are not providing easy-to-find and easy-to-use press kits on their corporate websites which include lots of photos of products, services and people in their company well, they’re really behind the times. You too can easily gain valuable inlinks from blogs and newspapers, just as I have.

Twitter Uses Microformats

While using Twitter this week, I realized their programmers had incorporated Microformats in the design! I noticed that my Operator Toolbar was responding to the Microformat content in the page, and making it available for me to export.

As you can see from my Twitter profile page, Operator has found Contacts and an Address available in the page. Note the “Contacts” and “Addresses” buttons in the browser toolbar are not grayed out, but are showing as clickable.

The Contacts is returning hCard Microformat info not just for me, but also for all of the 36 twitterers that I follow and whose icons appear on my profile page.

The Address is apparently supposed to be my personal profile’s address data, but it’s not interpreting quite right for me. I think this is because it places the entire Twitterer’s location content in the “adr” value, without breaking the content out into the street address, locality, region and country. Also, the hCard profile attribute isn’t included in the page’s tag.

Still, Twitter’s incorporation of the Microformats in the page code is exciting to me! Why? Well, I’ve written before about how incorporating Microformats can potentially be advantageous for the purposes of Local Search Optimization here and here. Essentially, this can help search engines to more easily interpret the address info on webpages and associate business information with webpages.

Yahoo! has been the fastest at adoption of Microformat content, with Google following close behind. Yahoo’s Search Monkey platform (which allows both Yahoo engineers and all other web developers to create applications which deliver up special webpage listing representations in Yahoo search results) has shown very clearly that Yahoo’s bot has been tooled to particularly harvest Microformat data from webpages in order to make special use of that amongst the various signals they get from sites.

Does Google use Microformats? Yes and no. Google Maps has incorporated Microformats in the display of their search results so that users can access, export and use business and address data easily. However, it’s not yet entirely clear if they spider that same data from local web pages as part of the info they collect in categorizing and ranking pages. Google Maps engineers have told me off the record that they watch all types of data like this, and if there’s a significant number of sites using it, then they will also make use of it in their ranking “secret sauce”. With a high-profile site like Twitter incorporating Microformats, there’s yet more incentive for Google to adjust their data collection algos to incorporate hCard data if they have not already.

In the past week, I wrote an article on how small businesses can and are using Twitter for local marketing. Twitter’s incorporation of Microformats further underscores the value of the service as a component of Local SEO.

Markting Via Twitter Is All About Community Engagement

My new article on some ideas on how to “Harness the Power of Twitter for Local Marketing” just pubbed this morning at Search Engine Land. In it, I describe how a number of small and large local businesses are using Twitter, and I provide a small handful of ideas as to how to do it.

Make no mistake, though – the basic foundation of marketing through Twitter is all about “audience engagement” or “community engagement”. Twitter is a communication medium, a micro-blogging platform, a community forum. Micro-communities and macro-communities are grouping up on it rapidly so that people with common interests can easily ask each other brief questions and get back quick answers. Also, people are using it to keep up-to-date with one another in something far closer to real-time as well.

From my perspective, the most effective business uses of Twitter are where companies are providing snippet information of direct interest to their communities, and responding to questions from their stakeholders and customers. Whole Foods and Marriott International are two of these companies which are demonstrating that they “get it”, and are providing compelling interaction through their Tweets.

For many locally-oriented businesses, Twitter is a really good opportunity to gather together a community of interested current and future customers. To do this, one must respect the time and patience of the audience — don’t waste people’s time by too much inane chatter. Also, to build an audience rapidly, consider giving away some really great rebates or freebies. For instance, my coworker Li Evans just “retweeted” (“forwarded”) this offer from Maggiano’s Restaurants to her list of followers this morning:

Li Evans retweets a Maggianos Offer

This sort of discount offer is highly compelling. I took the offer, began following Maggianos, and forwarded the offer to my list of Twitter followers as well. This sort of Twitter use is very powerful! Notice how it’s viral: it encourages people to distribute the offer out to their friends, who send it to their friends, who… you get the picture!

The Twitter phenomenon is growing very rapidly since the service launched only a couple of years back. Savvy marketers will learn how to leverage the potential, but only if they understand the basic foundation of community engagement.

Local SEO Tip: Leveraging Categorizations To Promote Your Small Business

Many small businesses still rely upon their yellow pages listings to some degree for business referrals. A business’s listing data is not only found online in the internet yellow pages, but that same data feeds into the local search engines like Google Maps, Yahoo! Local, Live Local Search, and a myriad of other directory sites and local info sites.

A really simple way to increase your small or medium business’s (“SMB”s) exposure on the internet is to insure that your business listings are associated with as many apropos categories in online directories as possible.

While it seems a no-brainer, many SMBs neglect to check how various online sites have categorized them, and as a result get ineffectively and insufficiently displayed throughout the internet.

Back when I worked for a major online yellow pages company, I recall how one of our data aggregators had attempted to automatically categorize a great many non-classified establishments by using words in the business name. While this worked to some degree, a bunch of businesses were put into the wrong category. For instance, they’d shoved all businesses with the word “garden” in the name into “Garden & Lawn Supply” categories, but there are a lot of restaurants with names like “China Garden” that got lumped in with them!

So, today’s Local Search Engine Optimization Tip is easy: go out to the top online directory sites such as Superpages.com, Yellowpages.com, Yellowbook.com, Google Maps, Local.com, Yelp.com, DexKnows.com, Yahoo! Local.com, and any others you’d expect to find your business in, claim your listing(s), and check to see if they’re in the proper business categories!

Choosing Categories in Google Local Business CenterMany internet yellow pages allow you somewhere on the order of five category associations for free, so you should be able to update and enhance your listing in these services for free.

Try not to limit yourself to just two categories — if the directory site has a rich taxonomy, you may be able to find a number of categories that are exactly right for you business.

Imagine, if your company is only in one category and/or a wrong category, just by fixing this business categorization you could increase your referral rate by a few times over!

Duplication Solution Announced With Canonical Tag

Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft announced a joint agreement today at the SMX West conference in Santa Clara to support a new protocol which is intended to assist webmasters in reducing duplicate content issues on websites. All three are issuing blog postings about this, and Matt Cutts presented the new protocol in a session just a few minutes ago at SMX.

Matt Cutts explains the Canonical Tag at SMX West

This is a really exciting addition to the SEO’s toolbox! Duplicate content often occurs when webmasters accidentally create alternate URLs for the same content across their sites. The larger the site, the more likely it is to have serious duplication issues. This was one of the most difficult issues I used to work upon when I was in charge of SEO for Superpages.com — nearly any site which uses dynamic URLs with querystrings to specify how content is delivered end up with some level of duplication.

Here’s just a few examples of duplicate URLs:

The solution the search engines collaborated upon to solve canonical and duplicate content issues is very straightforward — one can add them within the HEAD tags of a document:

<link rel=”canonical” value=”http://example.com/page.html”/&gt;


Matt provided a number of caveats and advance clarifications about use of the tag:

  • It’s a hint to the search engines. Not a directive/mandate/requirement.
  • Far better to avoid dupes and normalize URLs in the first place.
  • If you’re a power user, exhaust alternatives first.
  • Does not work across domains.
  • DOES work across subdomains.
    (The example Matt gave was from Zappos’ new design subdomain: zeta.zappos.com vs. http://www.zappos.com)
  • Pages do not have to be identical.
  • Can one use relative / absolute urls? Yes, but we suggest absolute!
  • Can you follow a chain of canonicals? We may, but don’t count on it.

Matt added a further disclaimer about how search engines may not be able to handle some extreme cases, so don’t push the envelope too much. He said:

  • Point to a 404?
  • Or create an infinite loop?
  • Or point to an uncrawled URL?
  • Or www/non-www conflict?
  • Search engines will do the best they can.

Then, he jokingly quoted Ghostbusters in context to this: “Don’t cross the beams!”

"Don't Cross the Beams!" Ghostbusters

This whole protocol is really interesting and a great tool for webmasters to use. However, the caveats and strong suggestion that webmasters try to fix duplication content issues before resorting to this canonical tag would make me prefer to try to solve such problems instead of using this. It’s good to have the option, though!

Here’s the top announcement articles about this Canonical Tag protocol: